Richardson v. Foremost Insurance Company: A New Opportunity For Industry to End State Regulation of Coastal Oil Pollution?

In June, 1982, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Richardson v. Foremost Insurance Company’ which concerned a pleasure boating mishap. In the opinion observers saw the answer to an old question concerning the scope of the federal admiralty jurisdiction,’ and new support for the view that the federal courts are overloading their dockets to the point where the workload cannot be handled.

What many observers failed to see, however, is the opportunity Richardson presents to the shipping and oil industries to reopen the question of what role, if any, States should play in the formation and enforcement of coastal oil pollution policy. The question, which stretches back to 1970, has been the subject of both Congressional and judicial inquiry.

The purpose of this Article is to discuss how Richardson presents industry with a fresh chance to reopen the inquiry in court. The Article also suggests what response the courts should give to the question. In order to do so, the Article will first present background material on the oil pollution problem and on past and present federal and state oil pollution regulations. Having laid this groundwork, the Article will then analyze the Richardson opinion. This analysis will lead to a prediction that the case will, more than likely, lead to a reopening of the question of state regulation of oil pollution. Finally, the Article will conclude by arguing that the appropriate answer in the 1980’s is the same that Congress and the courts gave throughout the 1970’s: States should have a strong role to play in the formation and execution of coastal oil pollution policies.

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Robert M. Jarvis, Richardson v. Foremost Insurance Company: A New Opportunity For Industry to End State Regulation of Coastal Oil Pollution?, 19 Gonz. L. Rev. 265 (1983).

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